Now in its third year, the IWC Filmmaker Award is fast becoming an effective launchpad for projects from filmmakers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Launched in 2012 as a collaboration between watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen and Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), the initiative offers a cash prize of $100,000 to help a Gulf filmmaker get a project into production.

Three of the previous nominees are screening at this year’s DIFF, while a previous winner is currently in production.

Last year’s winner Dolphins, directed by UAE’s Waleed Al-Shehhi, is receiving its world premiere at a DIFF red carpet gala on Friday night (December 12).

The film interweaves three stories, unfolding over 24 hours, which focus on the concepts of femininity, masculinity and childhood. Al-Shehhi, a respected editor and DoP, is making his feature debut with Dolphins after directing several short films.

In addition, two of the projects shortlisted for the IWC award in 2012 are screening at this year’s DIFF: Mohammed Rashed Buali’s The Sleeping Tree will also receive its world premiere at a DIFF red carpet gala on Saturday night (Dec 13), while Ali F. Mostafa’s From A To B, which opened this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, is screening in the Arabian Nights section.

The Sleeping Tree, about a couple whose relationship is tested by caring for a daughter with cerebral palsy, was supported by DIFF’s Enjaaz/NBD programme.

Meanwhile, Maysoon Pachachi’s Nothing Doing In Baghdad, which won the IWC Filmmaker Award in 2012, is currently in production.

This year’s nominees include projects from Saudi filmmaker and actress Ahd, Emirati director Saeed Salmeen Almurry (Bint Mariam, Sun Dress) and Kuwaiti director and producer Abdullah Boushahri (see below for more details). The three projects will be meeting with potential investors and partners during this year’s Dubai Film Market.

IWC brand ambassador and actress Emily Blunt has joined the jury to select the winner of this year’s IWC Filmmaker Award, along with IWC Schaffhausen CEO Georges Kern, DIFF chairman Abdulhamid Juma and DIFF artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali.

The winner will be announced at a gala at the One&Only Royal Mirage on December 11, attended by Blunt and fellow IWC brand ambassador Aloe Blacc, who will give a private concert following the presentation.


Going To Heaven – Saeed Salmeen Almurry (UAE)

The story of an 11-year-old boy in Abu Dhabi who is starved of love at home and sets off on a journey with a friend to find his grandmother in Fujairah. The boys meet a fisherman who takes them to Fujairah, but the trip takes an unexpected turn when the fisherman’s mother takes ill.

Emirati filmmaker Saeed Salmeen Almurray graduated from the New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi and has directed several short films, including Bint Mariam, which won best Emirati filmmaker at DIFF 2008. He made his feature debut with Sun Dress (Thawb Al-Shams) in 2010, which played at several festivals and was theatrically released in the UAE.

“With this project, I am planning to achieve a much higher level of production value and create a stronger visual and cinematic atmosphere than in my previous films,” says Almurry. “I hope that by having a more thorough development phase, better planning and by assembling a professional team to work with me on this project that I will deliver a successful film.”

Producer: Cine Vision Art Production

Budget: $240,000

Finance in place: $93,000


Sandfish – Ahd Kamel (Saudi Arabia)

Based on Maha Gargash’s novel, Sandfish is coming-of-age story set in the mountains of the UAE in the late 1950s. A young and independent girl, who has been orphaned, is being sold by her brother to an old pearl merchant who already has two wives. In this journey towards her new life, she discovers love, lust, hate and eventually maternity and growth.

Best known for her starring role in Wadjda, Ahd has a directing degree from New York Film Academy and studied acting at William Esper Studio. Her second directorial short, La Saintete (2013), in which she also starred, screened at Berlin film festival and won the Golden Aleph at Beirut film festival.

“Noora’s story as portrayed in Sandfish, in its universality, opens up a window into the life of these characters and times,” says Ahd. “She undertakes a transformative journey from girl to woman and from woman to mother and it’s precisely the way she copes with the circumstances and eventually takes charge of her own destiny that I am eager to explore as a filmmaker.”

Producer: Paul Baboudjian, Tharwa Productions

Budget: $2m

Finance in place: $100,000


The Water – Abdullah Boushahri (Kuwait)

A wave of drought swept across Kuwait at the beginning of the last century, before the discovery of oil. A few water peddlers managed to break into private wells that were kept hidden from the people. Mohammed, the son of a daring water peddler, is in love with a beautiful girl from a lower-caste family. But the couple face ethnic and social obstacles as their love is unacceptable to society.

Boushahri previously directed short documentary Kuwaiti Champion (2003) and feature documentary Losing Ahmad (2006), which premiered at DIFF and was selected for more than 20 festivals around the world. He also established two Miami-based companies: Beyond Dreams Productions in 2001 and VFX house SYNQ Studios in 2007. SYNQ has worked on US films such as Ice Age and Underworld Evolution. He also produced Nawaf Al-Janahi’s The Circle with MBC in 2009.

“This film set in Kuwaiti society at the beginning of the last century addresses the so-called monopoly of wealth that is concentrated amongst the world’s “one per cent” and resonates with the social and political conflicts of our world today,” says Boushahri. “I believe this is an important film to be made as it conveys universal issues such as thirst, forbidden love and social differences in an indigenous culture that has almost disappeared today.”

Producer: Beyond Dreams Productions

Budget: $2m

Finance in place: $1.5m